Three Pines Studio’s Joann Condino and the Artist’s Mark
Posted on November 16 2018
Joann Condino fell in love with the hand-carved woodblocks of India when she was just 15. Back then, Pier 1 was a new, exotic store featuring barrels of hand-carved wooden blocks for printing. A first-generation Italian-American, Joann was drawn to the shapes, colors and textures of her mother’s pasta. She spent her childhood hearing stories of her father’s family carving wood during the winter and selling them at market the next spring.
“I grew up appreciating the mark of the artist, the chisel, in the wood carvings,” Joann says. “So, when I saw blocks that were from India in barrels, I recognized the carver’s mark.” There was something intriguing in the imperfections of the hand-chiseled wood. It was as if she could see the carver, bent over the block of wood, hands chiseling and wood shavings floating down, allowing the wood’s natural design to appear.
One simple treasure
She purchased her first wood block at that Detroit-area Pier 1 store with $6 she borrowed from her older brother. “It seemed like a million dollars to me!”For more than a half-century, Joann has loved and collected carved wooden blocks. “I find them at garage sales, flea markets, antique stores and more,” she says. She has received scores as gifts from family and friends. Today, she is the proud owner of about 450 hand-carved wooden blocks. Some are as old as the late 1800s; others as new as three months ago. From the start, Joann was attracted to shapes that mimic nature. Inspiration for the studio’s current palette comes from the luscious pine trees surrounding the studio, the vivid colors of its flower garden as well as the myriad birds and berries that gather near the studio’s wrap-around porch.
‘People want to put them on their wall. I want them to use them.’
Joann began using her blocks with ink on paper and quickly graduated to cloth, block printing first for herself and eventually for clients. “I’ve managed to use them in every degree that I can,” she says.
Whether creating exquisite prints for herself or others, she is captivated by the artist who painstakingly carved the wood block not by mechanical or laser cutter, but chisel cut by chisel cut over time. Like linen, the blocks’ hand-crafted nature gets better with time. “As a block gets worn, you can see the tool marks. That’s always fascinated me. The irregularity of the cut, the unevenness.”
Hence, the wonderful dichotomy of wood-block printing. There is perfection in the small imperfections, a tell of the hand of the artist, not the rigidity of a machine. Besides tool or maker’s marks in the wood block itself, the fabric artists then create, block by block, are completely unique block prints pleasing to the eye but not perfect to the ruler. Yet another show that a hand has inked the block and placed it just so. Unlike silkscreened linens, no two pieces – even in a set – are ever identical.
Which is exactly how nature designs.